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Leadership Transition at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

Leigh Youngblood passes the torch to Mount Grace's new Executive Director, Emma Ellsworth.

Leigh Youngblood passes the torch to Mount Grace's new Executive Director, Emma Ellsworth.

After an incredibly successful 26-year tenure as the Executive Director of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Leigh Youngblood announces her plan to retire, effective October 1. Emma George Ellsworth will be stepping into the position, after a year of having worked with Leigh as Deputy Director. Leigh will stay on for one year in an advisory capacity to ensure a smooth transition.

Leigh built Mount Grace from a small 1-person organization into one of the strongest and most dynamic land trusts in Massachusetts, with 35,000 acres conserved in less than 35 years and a staff of 9 people. She attributes her accomplishments to a philosophy and practice of inclusive collaboration and an openness to translating new ideas into action. “Leigh has built an organization that’s played a transformative role in our region,” said Congressman McGovern. “As a conservationist, her pioneering, landscape-scale collaborative efforts have become a national model. Her work to conserve scenic spaces, protect natural habitats, and support working farms will leave an indelible mark on our landscape for generations to come. Under Leigh’s leadership, I have watched Mount Grace become one of the Commonwealth’s preeminent forces for environmental advocacy and land stewardship, and I’m so grateful for her tireless work on our behalf.”

She turns over the organization to Emma Ellsworth. While new to the world of conservation, Emma has two decades of leadership in the world of organized labor, most recently as Vice President of Unite Here, the international union that represents casino, hotel, airport, and foodservice workers. She believes that her decades of experience in negotiations and organizing serve her well in guiding Mount Grace. “I have known Emma for almost a decade. She is ambitious, courageous, and a very hard worker,” said Phil Stevens of Carter & Stevens Farm and Stone Cow Brewery. “Driven by her passion for the out of doors as a canoe racer, hunter and angler, she will fight tirelessly to protect our region’s natural resources.”

Emma grew up in Montague and Greenfield. She spent summers working at Blue Meadow Farm, learning the values of hard work and appreciating the stunning beauty of the fog lifting over Mt. Toby in the Connecticut River Valley. She then went on to receive her undergraduate degree Magna Cum Laude from Wellesley College, and two Masters from Yale University. Her connections to Mount Grace run deep. Her father, Allen Ross MD, served on the Board of Directors for eight years, and Mount Grace facilitated the conservation of over 200 acres in Petersham, MA owned by her father-in-law William Ellsworth. Currently, Emma lives with her husband, Tom Ellsworth, in the house they built together at the base of Tully Mountain adjacent to the thousands of acres conserved as part of the seminal Tully Valley Private Forestlands Initiative.

Emma has bold aspirations in her new role, “Mount Grace has been a remarkably successful organization, packing a large conservation punch, despite its size. We need to maintain that efficacy and the strength of the community support we have built, while never resting on our laurels. We have significant new threats to our backyard in the form of climate change, new waves of development, and now this pandemic. This is not a time to rest, but instead to overturn new leaves, new rocks, and continue working together to plow forward.”

“Getting to know Emma this past year has been inspiring!” said Nancy Hazard, member of Greening Greenfield and long-time leader in seeking and promoting climate change solutions. “I am excited to partner with her to explore how Mount Grace can have an even greater impact in addressing climate change, from sequestering carbon in its forested lands, to improving habitat and resilience while expanding Mount Grace’s income stream and conservation efforts. Emma is eager to explore new ideas and collaborate with many different people and organizations. Under Emma’s leadership, it will be an exciting and productive time for Mount Grace.”